A Thoughtful and Thorough Academic Job Ad

What if I told you it was possible for an advertisement for an academic position to explain why the hiring department is hiring in a particular area, provide a profile of the kind of colleague the existing faculty are looking for, describe the work environments the successful candidate will find themself in, convey the values the department aims to promote, and detail how the hiring process will work?

You’d probably say, “sure, that is well within the bounds of the possible.”

Yet we don’t often see such ads.

Perhaps that will change, now that the Department of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (OU) has provided such a terrific model for them.

In an attempt to, in the words of OU philosopher Amy Olberding, “make the job seeking process more humane and open,” her department has created a detaied job ad with 10 hyperlinked parts, including: “Why are we hiring in virtue theory?”, “Who are we looking for?” “Teaching in the Philosophy Department”, “Our hiring process,” “Do you have questions for us?” and more.

The ad material is written with a combination of warmth and frankness. For a sample of its flavor, here’s the content from the “More about the Philosophy Department” section:

We recognize that investigating a department and even interviewing in person might not yield answers to the sorts of things you’d really like to know. Here are some of the things about us that might not be obvious or that you might be reluctant to ask directly.

The department is committed to being pluralistic about intellectual traditions, methods, and philosophical work. Our faculty do generally each have the usual defined areas of research—some are doing philosophy of language, some are doing history, some are doing ethics, and so on—and most of us work in the analytic tradition (even as some of us aren’t completely sure what that really means). Yet despite our many and varied specialties, faculty are not off in silos, each working away individually. We don’t always understand each other’s specialties, but we are open-minded and ready for enlivening philosophical conversation across our different interests and specialties. We have regular and special events—from visiting speaker colloquia to pedagogy sessions to reading groups—designed around the joint goals of learning new things together and inviting department members to share their work and interests with each other. We don’t treat conversation as combat; we do treat active and lively curiosity as our steady aspiration.

Our more formal department structures and working ethos reflect our commitment to making our corner of the profession as welcoming and inclusive as possible. We strive for shared and equitable departmental governance and service. Our formal policies—e.g., evaluation of faculty, hiring, and graduate admissions—are self-consciously designed to minimize bias and promote fairness. Several faculty in the department have additionally taken on roles in the department, university, or profession that work toward the goal of greater diversity and improved inclusive practices.

We are committed to making our workplace operate well for those in it, whatever their life circumstances. For example, we make efforts to schedule events, meetings, and colloquia in sensitivity to those responsible for children, whether that means scheduling early so faculty with children in school or care can fully participate or welcoming families and children to our informal events. Faculty children have even attended faculty meetings (though very few have enjoyed them). The chair is responsible for course scheduling and makes concerted efforts to attend to individual faculty members’ needs wherever possible. We are especially conscious of the needs of junior, pre-tenure faculty. The department strives to protect our pre-tenure faculty from excessive service and sees their successful passage to tenure as one of our goals.

Our department has many of the constraints—financial, staffing, and in our physical spaces—that you might expect of a large state university. But the department makes a point to work within our constraints to assist faculty in excelling in their work. For example, funds for travel are distributed equitably to all faculty, and the department makes every effort to utilize whatever extra-departmental funding we can to ensure that faculty can pursue their intellectual goals. We likewise have a commitment to aiding faculty seeking external grants and funding, and our faculty have a record of substantial success in seeking special funding through general university channels: e.g., junior faculty summer support grants, Humanities research grants, presidential and named professorships, and teaching awards.

The staff who support our department are central to our well-functioning and are prized by the faculty. Even as they fulfill demanding duties for the department and university, they are invaluable supports to faculty working in a large state university filled with the kinds of byzantine bureaucracy at which such institutions excel. Faculty can find in them a resource for questions no one else in the department (or perhaps on earth) can answer.

You can check out the whole thing here.

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